A bit of a preface before this story (this story being the one I wrote a month ago, not the NaNoWriMo story):
I do not have any first-hand experience with opium.
Furthermore, the Levels Theorem still holds. It is, hopefully, left somewhat ambiguous whether this “real world” is really real, or if it’s just one of the delusions caused by the drug.
I had witnessed the springing-up of the numerous new opium-dens with a sort of detached interest; I found myself curious at the effects they had upon the population as a whole, not even counting those who frequented them, but I found no immediate wish to partake of their environs myself.
I had heard much of the ways that opium had affected various people, and, while I found some of the reports fascinating in their own right, I, again, felt no need to experience them myself. I considered myself a “realist”, of some type, and felt that the dreamlike sensations that came with the intake of the substance to be little more than entertaining to a third party, such as myself.
But the day came. My cousin, who had dabbled with opium more than once, though was in no way addicted to it, came to visit me in the summer of 18–. He lived quite a, by my standards, at least, “free” life. The night of the very day he arrived, a Friday, had us quite intoxicated, and kicked out of several drinking-houses. Without the slightest indication of what he was doing, he pulled me along down the street, and, eventually, into one of the opium dens on a nearby Oriental-dominated street, titled “A Foggy Dream”.
It was dark inside, but there was enough light to see that the room we were in was crowded with tables, most of which had two or three mostly-still bodies at them, their bodies spread out in a mocking gesture of relaxation. At all of the tables, in the center, sat one or two small devices, most of which had small flames licking at the bottom. Each device had a pipe coming off of the side or top of it.
The entire area smelled strongly of a deep, heavy, sweet, alluring and yet subtly bitter smoke.
My cousin handed a few worn dollars to a man behind a counter, and we were led to an unoccupied table in another similarly filled room.
The man lit a flame below the device on the table, then walked back into the adjacent room.
My cousin took the pipe and inhaled deeply. His eyes drooped slightly, and a memory-filled hint of a smile came to his lips. He breathed in again of the vapours, then handed the pipe to me.
I took it, somewhat unsure of what to do. He just waved his hand, indicating to do as he did, and I put it to my mouth and inhaled.
I’ve never particularly enjoyed smoking, finding the smoke too harsh on my throat and lungs, but this was… Much different. Much like the smell, but also heavily floral at the same time.
I breathed out, then sucked in another lungful of the opium. My mind drifted for a moment, but I pulled it back to myself and handed the pipe to my cousin. He smiled at me, then breathed in the substance once more.
Whether I fell asleep there, then woke up sometime during the night and went back to my flat, or managed to drag myself to my flat before falling into sleep, – dare I even call it that? – I do not know. But the sleep was unlike any I had had before.
I had always been somewhat curious into the nature of dreams, and was continually intrigued by some of the “deeper” ones that I had occasionally, but this… Was so different. It was not the murky indefiniteness of typical dreams, but clear, sharp, real. I felt almost that if I were to die in the dream, my cousin would find me dead in the morning, in “real” life. But was that life truly “real”? It seemed less so in the illimitable clarity of the dream.
And even more, I was aware, in the dream, that I was dreaming. “Lucidity” was the word that came to me in describing that aspect.
Soon, though, I found myself awake in my old life. I rubbed my eyes, splashed my face with water, and began getting ready for the day, when I realized that the day was a Saturday, and I had no real reason for going out that day.
My cousin was sprawled on the floor, still asleep, and I decided to leave him there. I removed a notebook from a shelf, and readied a pen and ink. I then wrote down what I could translate into words of my experience of the previous night.
As I went through the details, the memories of the intense clarity came to me, and suddenly the world seemed to dim around me, in a way, or just, inexplicably, decrease.
But, as I looked around me from time to time, I found that my cousin, still sleeping, had not had the “decreasal”. I noted this as an oddity in the margin of my book, and continued writing.
Later that day, my cousin awoke, recounted his experience in great detail to me, then went to God-knows-where. While he had been telling me his story, I wrote down some of the descriptions of places and things he gave, and felt that there was something odd about it all.
Then, later that afternoon, my cousin returned, his hair more tousled than typical, and suggested we go to another “den”. I agreed wholeheartedly, not from any feeling of “need”, but from an eager excitement to repeat the experience of the previous night.
He led me to another den, not The Foggy Dream, but another one nearby, titled “The Waking Sleeper”.
From the time we got in, I had a strange feeling. The air, the environment, the people – they seemed clear, like the dream. I remember looking at a group of four or so people, asleep at one of the tables, trying to decipher what I was feeling, but failing.
The evening went by in much the same pattern as the previous, my cousin and I taking in opium, more than the night before, and falling to sleep – notably, at the table.
The dream held just as much majesty as the last, the brightness of everything so incredible that I was overwhelmed.
The day after, we went back to my flat, and ate a small meal. I, again, wrote down my dreams, and some of the mystery returned as I wrote. I flipped back to my previous chronicle and recounted it to myself. Some of the places and things and people were the same as the night before. That, I assured myself, was easily explained. It was just my head, after all, right?, and things could be recurring.
But there was something more. I re-read my cousin’s dream of the night before, and found that there was an environment he was in, towards the end, that was much the same as one in my dream. I compared them, and was amazed, though not entirely convinced.
As I continued writing my latest dream, though, I was puzzled to find several people in it that sounded familiar.
Then, suddenly, the realization came to me – it was the people that I had, as I spaced out, thinking, stared at in the opium den. But that, too, was obviously just that they had been on my mind, subconsciously, before I slept.
My cousin told me his dream, though, and we were both surprised to find that they were in his dream as well. They seemed not just like the typical one-sided people of dreams, but, to the contrary, just as real in the dream as we were.
But we agreed that it must mean nothing.
My cousin had to leave the next day, and we decided to make one more trip to an opium den before he left. This time, I felt both a need for dreams as well as… Almost a sustenance that the substance seemed to give me.
And so we did. A third den, called “The Light of Clear Day”. It proceeded much the same as the previous nights had, albeit more confusedly.
We woke up early enough to go to my flat, to gather up his small amount of belongings, before heading to his train. When we arrived, though, we were told that it was running slightly behind schedule.
While we waited, I wrote down the latest of my dreams, which, I was eager to share, involved my cousin and some places that seemed familiar from previous dreams.
Then, after writing mine, I offered to chronicle his. He accepted, and began telling it. In one part, I was there, much to my interest.
As he began telling it, though, I found that it proceeded much as our encounter in my dream had. Then, in his narrative, we began to have a conversation.
He only had to say the first few words before I knew it all, however. It was the same as in my dream. I shared this detail with him, just as his train pulled into the station.
He grasped my by the shoulders. “You don’t mean…?” he questioned, looking into my eyes with an expression more serious than I had ever seen him wear.
I nodded, and he left as the boarding call was let out for his train. He boarded, and looked out the window at me, still wearing the sober expression.
His train pulled away, but, on some “other plane”, I felt that he got no further away from me than he had been.